#1 Duke [–26] #16 Delaware State
Incorporation Capital State actually played Illinois, Arizona State, Michigan State, Marquette, Michigan and UTEP this year. I suppose I should also mention they went 0-6 in those games. The tallest player in their top seven is 6'7", and I think Duke might be closer to Charlotte than they are. As for Duke, THEY ARE AWESOME BABY !!! ARE YOU KIDDING?!? Coach K is the DYNAMIC DIVINER OF DURHAM! J.J. Redick is my national player of the year BABY! He's got unlimited range, I tell ya; he can really shoot the rock. This year he's improved his all-around game to really take him to another level. He drives to the hoop like Kobe Bryant, and his defense? One word – super scintillating sensational BABY! He reminds me of Dennis Johnson, but better looking. That GI Joe hair? IT'S AWESOME BABY! He's also a poet, like Maya Whitman or Emily Angelou - just sensational BABY!
#8 Stanford [+2] #9 Miss State
By tip-off this one will be analyzed to death, but two things strike me. Lawrence Roberts is not a bad proxy for Ike Diogu, not as dynamic a scorer but a load nonetheless. Let's hope we've learned. Also, they are a bit banged up as well. No one is as thin as Stanford right now, but every little bit helps. Which reminds me, a warm round of applause for our new friend, TV timeouts! First time I'm glad to have them. I pass on all predictions for this game, but it should be quite the capper as the very last game of the first round. Talk about suspense!
PS: Forget that. I own a pair of tattered MSU sweat pants back from when my brother was stationed at the Air Force base down the road a bit in Columbus, Mississippi. I have been there. To these guys, Charlotte must seem like New York City. I say the presence of buildings over four stories high proves a distraction and Stanford goes through them like our whole team is Teen Wolf!
#4 Syracuse [-9 ½] #13 Vermont
The Orange are suddenly a trendy pick to win the entire region, a shocking change in opinion from two weeks ago when Connecticut crushed them 88-70. Marcus Williams was on Gerry McNamara like they were in the cast of Mummenschanz. Eight days later they are Big East Tourney champs and hey, they might just match-up with Duke pretty well after all. That 34% shooting from deep from G Mac bothers me though, their lineup still carries a couple of scoring stiffs (I call forth Craig Forth), and if he puts up a 3-of-10 night, they are in trouble. Vermont's season has been well documented and you'd have to be the coldest of cynics to not root for this team. Once again they get a brutal first round game but for them this is a dream. Two years ago they had to take plains, trains, automobiles and a dog sled or two to get to their game in Salt Lake against Arizona. Last year Coach Brennan made the painfully true joke that there was one guy in the country who could guard Taylor Coppenrath, and they drew him. Yep, they played UConn in the first round. So taking a bus down 91 to Worcester to face merely a #4 seed with Hakim Warrick actually is a relief to these guys. They give them a game, but ultimately talent beats heart. Syracuse by a TD. By the way, with all the talk of Charlotte hosting Duke & North Carolina in the same building, Worcester has to be the toughest ticket in the country by a HUGE margin. Locals UConn, Syracuse and Vermont all in the same building, not to mention North Carolina State and Michigan State? Yowza.
#5 Michigan State [-9] #12 Old Dominion
Any team that beat Stanford must be tremendous. Actually, it is pretty amazing how under the radar the Spartans are this year. How has Tom Izzo gone from rising superstar to forgotten man so quickly ? These guys have six losses: @ Duke, @ George Washington, @ Wisconsin, Illinois, @ Indiana, and Iowa. Four of those were by single digits. Alan Anderson, Paul Davis, Chris Hill and Kelvin Torbert have been around forever, they make their FTs, they play tough D. This team looks pretty upset proof to me. ODU has the gaudy 28-5 record but it's hard to find a real quality win. Coach Blaine Taylor provides the Stanford connection for a rooting interest and CAA player of the year Alex Loughton is Freakishly Tall Aussie Alert #5. MSU clamps down and advances easily.
#2 Kentucky [-16 ½] #15 Eastern Kentucky
Is it possible Tubby Smith is feeling some heat? The streak over Florida ends, then becomes a losing streak a week later. They went 1-2 in their three big non-conference games vs UNC, Louisville and Kansas. Last year they helped ease Stanford's pain just a fraction by losing as a #1 seed to UAB in round two. In my humble opinion, they have the least potential to win the whole tourney of any of the #2 seeds (Oklahoma State, Wake Forest, UConn). That being said, this could still get ugly. Maybe they'll have mercy on former Wildcat Travis Ford, now the Colonels coach. Back in December, EKU played at Florida and Louisville. 98-49, 78-63. Something like 75-55 has a nice ring to it.
#7 Cincinnati [–3] #10 Iowa
OK, so if everyone is picking Iowa how come Cincy is a solid favorite? Could it be the betting types don't overreact to the most recent game? The Bearcats were upset by South Florida in the C-USA tourney and don't have a quality win since UAB five games before that. They got smoked at DePaul back on Feb 12, at the time their fifth loss in nine games. But those other loses… Louisville * 2, Wake Forest and Charlotte, every game a single digit margin. The big concern is their game starts at 3 pm Eastern on St Patrick's Day. Coach Bob Huggins could be on his sixth Harp by then. On the other side we have a team that only made headlines when not-so-lucky Pierre Pierce got booted from the team for assaulting a woman. Just 7-9 in the Big Ten, the Hawkeyes play an incredible number of tight games and their two wins in the Big Ten Tourney and narrow defeat to Wisconsin were just enough to slide into the NCAAs. I actually have this as a key game as it could be an indicator as to the relative strengths of the two conferences. For what it's worth Cincy got rocked in the second round as a #4 seed last year by #5 seed Illinois and then relived their humiliation with a 67-45 loss this past New Year's Eve. When in doubt take the points.
#3 Oklahoma [-12 ½] #14 Niagara
Everyone knows the Sooners. Big Kevin Bookout down low, little Drew Lavender outside, Taj Gray comes in from JC and leads in scoring and rebounding. A very tough, veteran team. But let's talk about Niagara, this team is fun!!! It is very appropriate that the school known for one guy – the incredible scoring machine Calvin Murphy – should put up 85 points a game. I admit to not knowing anything about Juan Mendez until this week, but 24 and 10 gets your attention. Known for drawing fouls, he went to the line an amazing 265 times in 29 games this year and converted at a sweet 81% clip. This game will come down to who gets in foul trouble first. If it's him, forget it, Niagara is falling and they can't get up. But if he gets Gray or Bookout in foul trouble first, then whip out the C&C Music Factory CD because that is a thing that makes you go hmmm. Cold water over the falls however… they are last in the MAAC in opponent's FG%. Sooners score at will, if they start having fun Niagara gets the back door cover. Pass the game, look for the upset elsewhere.
#6 Utah [-3] #11 UTEP
Yes, with no further ado, it is the final and most anticipated installment of Freakishly Tall Aussie Alert - this is #6 I believe. Andrew Bogut is the real deal as anyone who saw the Olympics already knew. MVP of the Junior World Championships the year before that, he is basically unstoppable by anyone currently playing college ball. What's that you say, Utah plays in a week conference? Au contraire mate. So the Mountain West isn't great, let's see what he did against the big boys. Washington: 23 points on 8-of-8 shooting and 7-of-10 from the line, with 12 boards, four assists and four blocks. Arizona: 20 points on 8-of-10, 2-of-2 shooting (he even made two three's), 10 boards. LSU: 24 points on 10-of-15, 4-of-7 with 17 boards. That totals 67 points in 3 games on 26-of-33 shooting, 13-of-19 from the line, and 39 rebounds. Those are some sick numbers. The only team that has beaten Utah since December is New Mexico, who managed to keep those real creatively named Utes below 60 the last two times they played. Poor three-point shooting by Utah and excellent games by Danny Granger were the formula. UTEP likes to get up and down the court, wearing those bulky helmets with the light on them doesn't seem to bother them. They win the high scoring games and lose the low scoring games. I don't see an inside presence that will do more against Bogut than act like one of those birds that hang out on top of rhinos' backs. Tournament games tend toward the half court, I say the Utes win their case before Judge Munster and win at their preferred pace.
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